Alternative assessments

High-stakes standardized tests are not the only means for assessing student achievement. They are, in fact, inferior to more individualized, child-centered forms of assessment such as portfolios and performance-based assessment. For information on each of these methods, see below.

Portfolios Instead of High Stakes Tests

In February 2013 Chancellor Wolcott sent a letter to parents saying that this year’s state tests, related to the Common Core State Standards, will be much harder than past state tests.  When we add this threat to the problems that high stakes tests are already causing, what are parents and teachers to do?

Portfolio assessment is a systematic way to evaluate student achievement.

A portfolio

  • is a purposeful sampling of student work
  • can show progress, or achievement in all subject areas.
  • shows a learner’s ability to think, solve problems, use strategies, and create complex projects


  • Each piece is chosen to represent a major aspect of the curriculum.
  • Each piece is dated and the criteria for grading it must be included
  • The child joins the teacher in selecting work for the portfolio
  • Pieces should be accompanied by the child’s reflection on the work, for example:

What I tried to accomplish

What I learned

What I am proud of

What I would do differently next time

Advantages of Portfolios

  • There is much less stress caused by selecting pieces of class work than by taking high stakes tests
  • A sample of work done in class gives an accurate picture of what students have learned, whereas test results are not as valid.
  • A portfolio can show complex work that has been completed over time.

*This was compiled by Rosalie Friend, CtS Member

Performance-Based Assessment

For information about performance-based assessment — which is used at 28 New York City high schools as an alternative to high-stakes testing — see the website of the New York Performance Standards Consortium.